Give the `pruning hooks' a chance

by Eusi Kwayana
Stabroek News
July 25, 1999

What is a pruning hook, politically?

The Christian Bible speaks of a time when warriors will beat their spears into pruning hooks. Since this is all about time to come, at least to those who read it now, then we must regard peace as part of the modern agenda, like the much talked of world super highway. This is one of the most uplifting passages, though brief, in a Bible which is also full of bloody enterprises in the name of God.

The same pruning hook passage is matched by another sublime one making "the wolf lie down with the lamb." What can be more revolutionary? These things stand for deep, deep change, because they strike at that Satan in all of us, priest and political leaders alike, the ego. To make these changes though, the warriors must have the good, old time, trite political will. Constitution makers make it too, or they should not take on the task.

In botany, a pruning hook is a knife or is an instrument for cleaning a tree, by "cutting away unwanted branches and leaves," releasing it and opening it up to air and sunlight. My reference says pruning can also increase the "vigour and productivity" of plants. Does this have a ring of something readers would like to happen in life?

That is one way of looking at the pruning hook. The Constitutional Reform Commission attempted to do some of this pruning, even when the pruning done was not enough. It was not enough because protection of territory was very much part of the little political will that went into the pruning. Protection of territory as a priority offers a poor chance for deep change. Those with the political will for deep change spent all of it in clearing away the overburden and backlog of conflict typical of the two party dialogue. Lack of deep change became an unwritten condition for peace, it seems.

So another way to apply "pruning" is the way the various parties behaved. It seems that in the presence of other forces, like the two smaller parties and the non-party representatives of women, religion, other professions, labour and business, regardless of their political attachments, if any, the two major parties were on their best behaviour. Unlike the ill-fated, hard-pressed Herdmanston dialogue, the Commission sat from day to day, night to night and executed what it could of its business. So the main achievement of the Commission is not the many minor changes -prunings- it has recommended, but the quality of relationship it has shown is possible, even in our long goat-bitten Guyana.

In the sales talk of the leading Commissioners two things raise the eyebrows. One is a statement by the Secretary that those who propose power sharing may be interested in "a piece of the action." The other is that the recommendations permit power sharing because the President is free to appoint cabinet ministers from any party. First, as the person associated with the earliest proposal for power sharing, I have never wanted "a piece of the action." When it was proposed in 1961, those proposing it knew they were courting the "political wilderness" where they were promptly sent.

The other remark came from the learned Chairman. Well! When Premier Cheddi Jagan in December, 1964 wrote to Greenwood the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to propose the same power-sharing he had rejected, he called for constitutional guarantees for those then excluded. Why? He knew that those who appointed could also, in Guyanese language, "disappoint" according to the lauded Westminster tradition. This is an important part of our political history.

On a smaller scale, this experience of working together has also been the case in the inter-party committee for electoral reform. It was also so in the PCD (against the PNC) for a long run. There, the small parties had an equal, nominal voice, even without anything like equal stable numbers behind them. Again, size did not matter until it came to matter. What does this signify, if anything, for what we call the nation?

In the Commission, the long-held spears, which could not be lowered in the two party dialogue, despite various cease-fires, were absent. Lighter spears were used and became as instruments of peace in many, not all, encounters. It seems to be the same law of territory, that is, "essential interests." In the Inter-party Committee for electoral reform consensus was not sought at the end in the detail of the timing of the dissolution of parliament. I am not the best informed PCD historian among us, but in the PCD the consensus broke down just when the way was cleared, with the PNC consenting, for fair and free elections against the existing order, as we thought. The existing order exists, as we know.

Unless a miracle happens in the National Assembly, competition for the supreme office will be back with us also "with signs following." (Jesus warned people to look for signs to know his disciples). It can be argued by those who supported an Executive President that competition was not invented around the post of Executive President. It was equally there for the Prime Minister's post before 1980. The value set on the titular or non dominating President can be seen by the PNC Leader's rejecting the National Patriotic Front, which had offered the PNC Leader (1977) the Presidency.

The real difference where the direction of peace and its alternative are concerned is not then the title Executive President, as against Titular President. It is the distribution of power. An Executive President tends to be vulgar, being both head of state and head of government. In Guyana bitter struggle was waged first for the office of Prime Minister and then after 1980 for the Presidency; in other words for the headship. Why will it be different in the future after the new constitution?

A government which wins an election is entitled to fair treatment by the electorate and by parties which took part in the election and by every one. But again, whichever party chooses with its eyes open a straight majority system of government by one party has in my humble opinion, no moral right to ask for sacrifice and to appeal to a higher sense, seeing that it has itself no higher sense than its own majority interests. Admitted, these "majority interests" are based on traditions which have worked in the right countries.

So here we are with some small spears and some small swords beaten into peace tools. The heavy swords and spears, however, remain weapons of conflict. The two major parties have waged 44 years of conflict with nine general elections and one referendum and at least five years in which political violence was the main concern of the people. If this half century of experience has taught them nothing and cannot convince them that a new kind of system and not a tinkered system is needed, what are they signalling to us?

A look at the minority opinions as documented in the report is an education in itself. Read them please and then ask yourself what does 'democracy' mean.

The Commission could not get a majority of 12 out of twenty to agree that a party should be free not to name a presidential candidate in a general election.

It could not get a majority of 12 to decide that a party need not nominate fifty-three members for an election, but may nominate fewer. We had all agreed to this in 1979.

It could not find a majority of 12 to decide that the Judicial Service Commission should be made open. It could not find a majority of 12 to limit the power of the President to dissolve at will.

No wonder we almost named a single Commission for "Women and Children" no doubt assuming the one to be as powerless as the other. Has not a Zimbabwean court just last Thursday declared married women to be equal to teenagers and totally subject to their men? Fortunately the Guyanese women barged in and liberated both themselves and the children from a sea of neglect.

Is there time for the people to barge in with public opinion to remind our forgetful major parties of our reality?

There is a kind of constitution advocated by some people. It sets one party free of ruling a divided country, frees up sections of the people from seeing themselves as opposition and allows those said to be protected to protect and represent themselves.

There is one bright spot on the horizon. It is the proposal for a national government for the two years or so between the end of the present government's shortened term and the normal election date. It was first proposed by Rupert Roopnaraine M.P and forms part of the Constitution Report. It is a step in the direction of Peace. But it is not part of the recommendations. It will not change intentions in time for the final voting. In fact it must have been a creative response to the failure to change in the Constitutional Commission. I hope I have made my position clear on a piece of the action. Now that the Report is in, my small voice will be part of the discussion.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples